I started a new assignment this year. It’s a pretty amazing story of how God loves to open doors in response to our prayers.
I’ve spent the past year and half hanging out in this little chapel, housed adjacent to the main church building of a lovely congregation. They opened the chapel doors to me when I began Unveiled and allowed me to host events and our cohorts in this beautiful space.
I could’ve never known how dear this place and its people would become to me. In January, I was invited to join their staff part-time to help build the women’s ministry.
I was recounting earlier today how in my first years of ministry work, I was often so afraid. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember being called upon to lead a special early-morning staff prayer time at my organization. I much preferred being in my prayer closet alone, perfectly hidden and out of sight. Yet Jesus was calling me to the fore.
Leading those early morning staff prayer times terrified me. They were small, but mighty. I remember not really knowing how to lead a group in prayer. So I basically just led everyone the way I knew – we did together what I’d always done alone in my personal devotional times.
We’d worship God with just our voices raised, one at a time telling Jesus who he’d been to us that week. “Lord, you are my Peace.” And the next person would raise their voice: “Lord, you have been my Joy.” And the next: “Lord, you are my ever-present Helper.” And we’d continue together from those personal recollections of the God who had met us, and made Himself known to us.
Immanuel, God is with us. (Matt. 1:23)
So, I was sharing how those years were rather terrifying yet so powerful. Now that I “know how” to lead a prayer meeting, it’s so easy to just lead. It’s easy to go through the motions from my sense of having done this before, my sense of knowing. And that is a different type of terrifying. God both can be known, and is beyond finding out. We are meant to remain in the place of knowing Him and knowing nothing at all.
In many ways it is better not to know how. I depended on Jesus for every word in those early days of leading prayer. I would wait, with expectant breath, for the words to pray. If they didn’t come, I had nothing to say.
At the same time, in our seasons of growing to know Jesus more, it is a beautiful thing to let the words flow freely between us. There is an ease in conversation with the Lord, that has built over time. Yet my soul longs to forever be in the place of dependency and desire to know Him more.
Return to the works you did at first. Do the first works. (Rev. 2:5)
Those were the words I heard as I settled into my new office, right next door to the Chapel. I knew it had something to do with a rhythm of prayer first, then all the other “work.” I needed to hear those words because I would soon find myself in the all too familiar battle for first love. What would receive the first affection of my heart? My office is next to the chapel, but am I remaining in the chapel. Am I remaining close in my connection with the Lord?
Very quickly I found that my prayer life was beginning to suffer, and my connection to God seemed distant.
Here’s the thing though – God never changes. He is never, ever, far from us. His word promises that throughout. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. God is always near. (Heb. 13:5, Acts 17:27)
When there is distance, it is because I have withdrawn.
This is how we drift: We stop prioritizing undistracted time with God. Reading our Bible and praying shifts in the wrong direction, from devotion to duty. The moment that shift occurs, we have left relationship and stepped into religion.
And Jesus didn’t die for religion (believing or thinking a certain way), Jesus died for relationship. He paid a great price to be closely connected to you, and me.
Do the first works of devotion, not duty.
But how do we return to devotion to the Lord? Like everything else in the Kingdom of Christ, we ask him. I acknowledge that I have prioritized other things ahead of him, and I need his help.
If you ask God to give you deep love for and devotion to him, he will do it. It is the prayer that he died, literally, to answer.
By his grace you are saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
Isn’t that amazing? Jesus always does the first work. Even the will to be devoted to him, comes from him.
This is a really sweet place – the not knowing. It is a holy moment to find yourself in these unchartered waters. You are being invited to come further and to go deeper in knowing, and being known, by the One who has called you.
That’s where I am. In this new role, with a new congregation and new ministry opportunities. I am in a new season of promises fulfilled.
Stay close to Me, you’ve never been here before.
In my coming and going, Jesus is there. And here I am, finding my way into His beauty. Again.
Faithful is he who has called you to also do it. (1 Thess. 5:24)
Do you sense Jesus inviting you to return to the first works of devotion? The Spring Cohort is a wonderful place to start that journey.